Teaching In Socks

“F#$@ this I’m outta here”
November 27, 2008, 4:57 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Turkeyless, but a game show cornucopia (also, I couldn’t find the proper snl skit to show since hulu is blocked outside the U.S.)

Things I miss about Thanksgiving, in no particular order:

1. Touch Football Mild Concussions

2. Bond Films

3. Jerkfaces at Blueberry Hill

4. Turkey Bread

5. Pumpkin Pie

6. Taking the Early Flight Home.

November 26, 2008, 4:45 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , ,
Getting In Character for Conversational Listening Tapes 3-6

Getting In Character for Conversational Listening Tapes 3-6

Allow me to start by saying that I’m all for Scotland. Tartan patterns, William Wallace, tourist traps under the guise of the existence of mythical, ancient sea creatures are all to my liking. I’ve never eaten Haggis and probably never will, but I like the name, and I respect a culture that is willing to eat things that will gross other cultures out, it shows moxie and fortitude.

However, can we agree, they don’t speak “proper” English. In fact, I would go as far as to say, they don’t speak English; they speak Scottish.

Before we start tossing pint glasses, I want to make it clear that I’m not attempting to imply that their dialect is inferior or cacophonous, I merely want to illuminate the fact that their colloquial pronunciation and vocabulary presents some significant differences between itself and others forms of English.

I only bring this up because in my classes, the CD’s we use for listening sections attempt to expose the students to a multitude of accents. Thus we have employed Small World-esque collection of voice actors to have conversations about why they don’t get along with their brother or what time they want to eat dinner. This cast of characters includes Proper English Chap, Boastful Big-City American, Heady Australian Girl, Sensible Kiwi Woman and the most difficult Deliberately Slow Scottish Guy. (Please note, these names aren’t official, however, they are accurate.)

Out of this mixed bag, Deliberately Slow Scottish Guy tends to elicit some surprised and perplexed faces from my students.  I consistently have to re-translate for my students which sometimes requires me to look over the transcript to see if he was talking about his “garage”, “carriage”, “marriage”, or something entirely different that I don’t even know about.

When my students signed up to learn English, I know they understood that there are a variety of accents to contend with. However, there is no evidence to suggest any of them came in with the intention or dream of becoming familiar with the finer points of proper Aberdeen intonation. Also, from a didactic perspective, if you’re trying to teach someone a grammar structure and some new vocabulary, it undermines your ability to teach and time management skills when you are constantly throwing them for a loop with new accent du jour each class–with special, exclusive intonation, contradictory word structure, and pronunciation.

I’m not trying to single Scotland out, but it’s a really difficult accent for my students to comprehend. It just not only a tricky one, but also a rarity for my Japanese students to encounter. If we want to prepare them for something they’re realistically going to be exposed to, we’re better off drilling them in in one of the various fancy boy euro-English accents than we are in recruiting voice actors from Edinburgh.

Also, if they’re really going to be a bear, they should be a Grizzly. On behalf of my various Caucused ancestors I’m outraged.  Where’s Ireland? South Africa? The entire southern United States? Canada? Wales? Scouser? Cockney? The whole thing smells of elitism to me.

This whole mess really makes me put more faith in trusted tenants of entropy theory. How did we get from a series of inflected grunts to Latin to this systemic mess of linguistic phylae? One day we are going to evolve to a state where each with have our own personal colloquial telekinetic language, with individually unique intonation and vocabulary unique. At that moment the world will then explode into a quintillion tiny particles of living bio-stardust that will be unable to have conversations with other bit of bio-stardust because they can’t decide if crisps are chips, and chips are fries or if chips are chips, and fries are fries, and crisps are nothing. Won’t that be wonderful.

on second thought
November 20, 2008, 3:31 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Just the other day I was considering writing about things are becoming less noteworthy here. The longer I live in Japan, the less foreign everything becomes, and what was once strange and interesting is now mundane and routine. Then the cosmic chiropractor happened.

Before my last class I decided to venture out the army of vending machines to grab a quick coffee. It was late, and other than one woman in a beige fleece, the halls of the shopping center were empty. I selected a Cafe Au Lait, and then proceeded to do my “Socrates of Vending” routine where I stare into each machine and look them over as if I am a Russian philosopher pondering something complex and of great importance.

In between machines, I glanced over towards the entrance of my school and noticed the woman in beige eyeing some of our schools literature posted on the walls. This is a normal occurrence as the shopping mall is connected to the train station; people often stare at our walls, much like I stare at the vending machines, as they kill time between trains. I thought nothing of this and went back to pondering unified theories in the labels of various herbal teas and caffeinated beverages.

As I reflected, he woman in beige circumnavigated the small tables behind me and approached me from the front. She was an older woman, with a friendly smile the way her shoulders slouched revealed an apparent shyness. She looked me in the eye and began speaking softly. I am often approached by older Japanese people who want to practice their English, so her approach did not startle or surprise me at all. She used a few English words, but spoke quickly and in Japanese.

My rudimentary understanding of her words and motions led me to believe she had some pain in her shoulders. I thought perhaps she wanted me to translate this into English for her as she moved on to speaking about pain in her neck and her back.

Then she asked me if I had pain in my back or shoulders ever. I began to suspect she was trying to sell me something. I expected her to pull out a business card for an acupuncture studio or chiropractor’s office.  Out of curiosity, I answered her question, saying, “sure, sometimes my back and neck are sore”.

She pulled out a chair and motioned for me to sit down. Still standing, I asked “massage?”. If this is what she had in mind, our conversation was over.

She hook her head no. I hesitated for a while longer before thinking, what’s the harm, if she tries to touch me I’ll get just get up and walk away. Besides, at the immigration bureau last week I studied the  “Japan’s Most Wanted” poster and I’m pretty sure she wasn’t on it.

So I sat down. She asked me a few simple questions, such as how long I had been in Japan, what country was I from. As she did this, and while I fumbled through answering them, she raised her arms to either side of me, lowered her head and began clenching her fist repeatedly. If this was supposed to make me relax, it did not have the intended effect. She was still a few feet from, but she did this for about a minute or two, then lowered her arms and raised her head. She looked at me and asked me if my neck, back and shoulders felt better, more loose. I lied and said, “yes”, and nervously tried to assure her that I now felt great.

I waited for her to ask me for money, or hint for some compensations but she just nervously smiled, bowed, thanked me as walked away toward the train station.

As she rounded the the corner, I checked for my  wallet. It was still there. I sat for a while and finished my coffee before heading back to the classroom.

I’m still not sure what she wanted, and what the nature of this act was. If she did steal my soul with some vicious Japanese voodoo, I can only hope the Robert Johnson precedent is in place and I have some mean guitar skills coming my way.

Aggressive Punctuality
Dont be late!

But don't be late!

Punctuality has never been my forte. If my memory serves me correct, I embraced the dilatory lifestyle as early as 1st grade. These habits were undoubtedly passed down from father, but i hold no ill will towards him as a result; in fact, in retrospect, they may have been a popularity boon of sorts.

I’m not sure if at the time I found it cool to be the kid arriving late, but I think it distinguished me among my peers, and that made me cool. In elementary school, anything that distinguishes you and makes you the center of attention that doesn’t involve you having to wear a pair of pants procured from the Lost and Found or excessive teacher praise is an ethos to cool. Soccer skills were cool, burping skills were cool, and being late was cool. I was the king of being late.

This routine dominated a large portion of my high school and collegiate career, and even permeated into my early professional gigs; however it is not attribute that could survive in Japan. Tardiness is a sin that this nation will not stand for. f you’re five minutes late, you might as well have killed a kitten. Plan on spending the next ten minutes apologizing–it’s a 2:1 ratio at least, unless you’re married.

I tried my best to country with a fresh perspective. In doing so, I began to see Japan’s logic on the matter of punctuality. Namely, what is so important that makes you late? (I still answer “sleep” in response to this question)

I am proud to say that in compliance with the reigning colloquial standards I have shifted my attitude, routine, paradigm and everything else to become a person that–at least on a professional level–arrives on time, if not early.

On average, I arrive at work ten minutes early. I set up the school, and officially clock in about five minutes early. This is nearly a 4,000% increase over my record at my previous employer. It feels kind of good. Not really good, there’s no “punctuality high”, but there is a small sense of accomplishment.

However, despited the marked improvement, the punctuality gods still have a score to settle with me. They conspire several times a week to haunt me with over-punctual students.

These students exceed the newly-rigged adjective, “ultra-early”. Some of these students consistently show up 25-30 minutes before class. I hate show offs.

What’s even more perplexing is their motivation for doing this.  I’m certainly not that interesting to talk to–in some cases I have another class before theirs so I’m not even in the lobby available for conversation, so that motive can be ruled out.Also, I checked around, we do not have a Nintendo Wii in the lobby, nor is their money hidden anywhere. We don’t even serve refreshments.

Now, I understand this isn’t the worse thing in the world. It’s just a little, kind, friendly human interaction. However we need a moderation of all things, and to be honest, in the Internet age, I’m good for about 10 minutes of small-talk, tops. Add on to that their limited command of English, and I have to start getting really creative just to sustain a five minute conversation.

At some point in the year, I wouldn’t be surprised if I am forced to break out “I Spy”. Once that happens, “Twenty Questions” and the daily riddle are sure to follow. If we add that to the weekly routine of “Head Shoulder Knees and Toes” (a classic!) that I already do and by February I will officially be the coolest (lamest) kid in First Grade…again.

November 10, 2008, 1:59 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , ,

Ako in Fall

I took this cold, cloudy Monday as an opportunity to a little Fall cleaning. I think the results of this process were successful enough to finally unveil the contents of my “apartment” to the demanding public (aka. Hi Grandma!).

Before we begin, it should be noted that I am of the opinion that the term “apartment” is a bit grandiose to describe my living space. This is more of a glorified dorm room, with Japanese instructions written all over it. In summation, I have one window, one table and only two western-style chairs. Does this seems meager compared to previous living standards? Perhaps, but do I really need more than this? As cinematic Samurai Sanjuro once said “a long life eating ricegruel is the best“”

The Hygiene Hub

This is the area of the apartment that makes me presentable. The shower-sink combination is nice. You just close the door and the room is your shower. I don’t really use the tub because it’s square-shaped and my body is allergic to crouching.

I initially had some concerns regarding the way the bathroom area is compartmentalized- toilet in its own room, shower and sink in the butt– but it seems to causes only a minor inconvenience. Specifically, when I have recently taken a shower but need to wash my hands while wearing socks. I have to ballerina it to avoid a damp socks predicament  Presumably the nature of this problem arises I’m not “doing it right”. Apparently the proper method for avoiding damp socks involves buying a pair of shower sandals– a staple in Japanese households, the Japanese love their sandals. I, however, stopped wearing shower sandals in 2005 when I and the Tulane University decided that I wasn’t a college freshman anymore. Thus, now I’m just a sophisticated gentleman with occasionally wet socks.

Kitchen Hall

Not much to brag about here. It’s more of a hallway with sink jammed in the middle of it. I don’t have a conventional oven, but the toaster oven gets daily use, and lately I have been cooking on the range–mostly for sport, I like a challenge. I think the miniature theme is most noticeable here than any other section of the apartment. It’s a bit like trying to live in a Disney ride. Amusing but  the gimmick wears thin rather quickly.

The Life-Space Extreme

This room is primarily what I am paying for; it takes all the concepts of the combined all-purpose room, combines the fun and excitement of a bedroom, and then jams them together to scale. Still, I can fit all of my possessions inside–which really the big (no pun intended) paradox of this room. Actual living space: about 150 sq ft. However, I have two closets and a rather substantial storage space underneath my bed; it’s completely disproportionate–almost letter worthy. I could live in the living space and rent out the storage space to roommate, he’d just have to comfortable sleeping in a giant cupboard.

The dining space is minuscule, but it’s not as if the kitchen lends itself to cooking for and entertaining large groups of people. Nothing is missed here.

The Communications center, or “Comm Center(” television and computer), is fantastic. However the CTU protocol setup is not by choice, but rather by necessity. As modern as Japan maybe, the number of electrical outlets (3) and placement of them seems a bit under-thought and hasty. In fact, the Communications Hub my be a fire hazard, I’m not sure about what’s an acceptable maximum ratio of plugs to outlets, 30:1?

November 5, 2008, 5:02 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

For those of you awaiting an aftermath debriefing; Halloween went well this year. I will say though, magic powers or not, me in cape running a classroom with seven children of varying age and English ability is technically not a fair fight. I was able to hold down the fort with minimal damage and convy ample Halloween knowledge, but entropy won its battles. Duct tape was required for minimal repairs, candy was consumed and dropped on the floor, and at times I felt like the broken shell of a teenage wizard.

Also, if you thought being the only white guy in town makes me stand out, imagine what happens when I put on a Harry Potter costume. I am certain the local chiropractors were busy last weekend;  whiplash was inflicted on several innocent bystanders. In retrospect, the ape was a great marketing ploy, perhaps I should I wear the cape at work every day.

Halloween quickly faded to the election this year, even in Japan. If you had asked me at the beginning of this week to take an over/under on the number of times I would have to bravely hold back giggling as someone mispronounced “election” in conversation, I would have taken the over. Seriously, you could have put the bar at fifty times and I’m still taking the over for a number of reasons.

fight obama?!

fight obama?!

Reason number one is that for a change, it appears the Japanese are interested in an election. Albeit, not their own, but still people followed what was going on with some intensity.  Furthermore, I more fully understand the nature of the “r”-“l” confusion. It’s not a mental issue, rather, there is no “l” sound in the Japanese alphabet. In many ways, while I derive humor from it, this impresses me. The Japanese are so phonically cool they don’t even need an “l” sound. This linguistic efficiency is something I marvel at, even if it does make my last name “Reirry”.

So far, I have only encountered the word in question once, and it was so quick I wasn’t able to savor the maturity diliema I had hoped for. My visions of constant sophomoric mayhem have not materialized. Upon closer review, I think history may have tipped the nation off though. People are eager to speak to me about the election, but the avoid using the word at all cost. “Voted”, “Chosen”, and “Picked” are amply substituted in place of any variation of elected. I guess I’ll have to get my jollies the next time someone instructs me to “clap my hands”.

(Also, a little election factoid: Obama means “little beach” in Nihongo and McCain…well its phonetic cousin, “makeru” (mahkay-ru) means “loser”. No joke.)

Speaking of bad words, for those of you in the “First time a student drops a curse word in Ted’s class pool” the winning date was November Fourth!

The goal of this particular lesson was to teach the student about exclamations such as “oops!” “oww” or “ugh!”. I suppose this particular lesson begs for an injection of crude and foul words, but at the time this detail eluded me. I attempted to to elicit such a response by showing a high-level student a picture of someone dropping a glass of red wine on a white carpet, and asked them what this person might say. Her response was swift, “Shit!”.

I nearly fell out of my chair laughing. I appreciated the cultural accuracy. Having previously lived abroad, she knew what she was doing, and the humor was a nice break in the class. Also, I was happy that my first encounter with profanity in my class room didn’t involve me having to invoke the notorious, Forsyth School  "Appropriate versus Inappropriate" lecture. I don’t think I’ve developed the proper philosophical palette, nor cynicism for fun that is required to deliver it properly.

coffee promo payoff
November 3, 2008, 3:09 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized
more than meets the eye

more than meets the eye